The preliminary hearing for Ahmaud Arbery's killers has begun

Sean Rayford/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Originally Published: 

Over three months ago, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery went for a jog in the suburb of Satilla Shores, Georgia, and didn't return. A video released one month ago shows how Arbery, a Black man, was chased down and shot by two white men who were attempting to make a "citizen's arrest," having believed him to be responsible for a string of burglaries.

No arrest for Arbery's killing was made until that video was leaked and public pressure forced an outside district attorney to take up the case. The previous two district attorneys had recused themselves due to conflicts of interest, as one of the men involved in Arbery's death had formerly worked in local law enforcement. Both of those district attorneys are now under investigation for refusing to pursue the case.

Last month, the two men — father Gregory McMichael and son Travis McMichael — were charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in connection with Arbery's death. William "Roddie" Bryan, who recorded the video of the McMichaels accosting Arbery that went viral, was also charged with felony murder. During Thursday's probable cause hearing, a judge will decide whether it's likely that the McMichaels and Bryan are guilty of the crime they are charged with; if so, then they will face a trial. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that all three men appeared via video from the Glynn County Detention Center, due to concerns about coronavirus spread.

The hearing began at 9:30 a.m., at which time a crowd had ballooned outside the courthouse to protest the killing of Arbery, despite rain in the area. Inside the courthouse, Special Agent Richard Dial of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation told Jesse Evans of the Cobb County District Attorney's office that there were other videos from the day Arbery was killed that depict him walking through a construction site without taking anything. Dial then said that Bryan saw the two McMichaels following Arbery in their vehicle and decided to join the pursuit. Dial said that neither the McMichaels nor Bryan called 911.

Only after Travis McMichael got out to chase Arbery on foot did Gregory McMichael call 911. That was when the younger McMichael shot Arbery twice, killing him. Dial said that between when the younger McMichael killed Arbery and the police arrived, he called the deceased Arbery the n-word.

Later in the hearing, Dial told the judge that the younger McMichael, a former petty officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, had a history of using racist expletives. The lawyer for Travis McMichael questioned Arbery's mental health and argued that in shooting Arbery, his client was operating in self-defense. Dial contradicted that assertion, saying Travis McMichael's first shot was to Arbery's chest, which he called an "offensive shot."

The hearing begins during a wave of national protests against police brutality and the killing of Black people with impunity. Up until a month ago, this was the case in Arbery's killing: All three white men who filmed, chased, and later carried out the "modern-day lynching," as one NAACP official described Arbery's death, were not charged with any crime until the public saw the video and demanded justice.

Throughout the country, protesters have been demanding justice for Arbery, as well as Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed in her home by Louisville police, and George Floyd, a Black man who was killed after a Minneapolis police man knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while he yelled "I can't breathe." Protesters have yelled the words throughout the past two weeks, and during a march in Atlanta this week, some protesters added another phrase: "Ahmaud, Ahmaud, I can't jog!"